Pimentel, Lacson question poll disqualification of party-list groups
Two senators are questioning the basis used by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in disqualifying certain party-list groups that currently hold seats in the House of Representatives from taking part in the elections in May 2013.
Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, chairman of the Senate committee on electoral reforms and suffrage, on Tuesday said his committee wanted to know if there was enough basis in existing laws for the disqualification of party-list groups.
Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. said last week that only half of the 115 party-list groups would be allowed to participate in next year’s elections.
In a statement he earlier issued, Pimentel urged the Senate to investigate the Comelec decision to delist Ako Bicol because it would mean “massive disenfranchisement of the group’s constituents.”
In reply, Brillantes said last week that the legislature had no business investigating a quasi-judicial body and an independent commission like the Comelec in the exercise of its quasi-judicial functions.
“I can understand the politicians taking sides because the people we are eliminating are actually multimillionaires who can help their political campaign. But please don’t involve us. We are trying to be fair to everybody,” Brillantes said.
“Do you have the power? If not, we’d give you that power. I hope the chair was here so we can discuss …. If there’s a loophole, we’d plug the loophole,” Pimentel told the legal staff of the poll body.
The Comelec has so far dropped 35 groups from the list of organizations qualified to participate in next year’s party-list elections.
Among those disqualified aside from Ako Bicol, which has three seats, were two groups representing electricity consumers—1st Consumer Alliance for Rural Energy (1-Care) and Association of Philippine Electric Cooperatives (Apec). Between them, 1-Care and Apec have three seats.
On Tuesday, Brillantes and the election commissioners skipped the hearing of the Senate panel on electoral reforms, leaving to their legal officers the task of explaining the junking of a growing number of party-list groups.
“Why did you not send your commissioners here? This is not a probe of your party-list decisions. This is a hearing on pending bills. Why did the commissioners boycott our hearing?” Pimentel told the staff of the Comelec legal office.
Those who attended the hearing on behalf of Brillantes and the commissioners were lawyers Gwin Calibuyot, Shemidah Cadiz and Erwin Villarin.
“I think it’s quite arrogant on the part of your chairman, if he was quoted accurately, that the Senate has no say as regards the party-list because there is a pending bill and it is the duty of the Senate to discuss pending bills. You can tell your chairman that,” Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a member of the committee, told the Comelec legal staff.
The committee on Tuesday discussed bills on ensuring women’s representation in the party-list system authored by Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada. It also discussed Santiago’s bill against political dynasties.
Urgent en banc meeting
The Comelec lawyers explained that Brillantes and the commissioners failed to attend the panel hearing because of an urgent en banc meeting.
Brillantes denied snubbing the committee hearing.
In a phone interview with reporters, he said he was surprised by news that senators overseeing the Senate committee on electoral reforms perceived the commissioners’ absence from the hearing as a “boycott” or an act of “arrogance.”
“It’s not true that there was a boycott. We sent our lawyers,” said the Comelec chief.
Brillantes said he even informed Pimentel ahead of the hearing that he would not be able to make it.
“Koko (Pimentel) knew that I won’t be able to attend. So, what is his problem?” he said when told that Pimentel questioned his “boycott” of the hearing.
Brillantes, along with Commissioners Grace Padaca, Armando Velasco and Christian Robert Lim, on Tuesday held their regular en banc meeting, where important matters were tackled. The en banc meeting requires at least four members in attendance for a quorum.
Commissioners Rene Sarmiento and Lucenito Tagle were scheduled Tuesday to attend a contract signing on voters’ registration and education at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City. Commissioner Elias Yusoph was on a personal trip to Saudi Arabia.
Brillantes said the Comelec en banc was swamped with work that it would find it hard to commit its attendance in future hearings. “We have a lot of things to do,” he said.
Compliance with requirements
At the hearing, Villarin said the disqualification of party-list groups that were previously allowed to take part in elections was based on whether they continued to comply with the regulations under the party-list law and the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court decision on Bagong Bayani.
“The basis is Republic Act No. 7941. The commission en banc calls all these accredited party-list [groups] to a summary hearing in order to show their compliance with the requirements under the Act and the guidelines,” Villarin said.
Pimentel said the disqualified party-list organizations went through and satisfied the same processes and regulations before 2010.
Change in composition
“They were accredited by the Comelec. That means they passed all the standards …. And then just because of the passage of time, they didn’t engage in rebellions, they didn’t take up arms, then all of a sudden, they are disqualified. Is it because of the change in the composition of the Comelec, a change in the thinking of the commissioners?” Pimentel said.
“If that were the case, was it because the commissioners before misinterpreted the law or they were too lax in enforcing the Bagong Bayani directives or they were instructed by somebody, as Senator Lacson said, ‘to close their eyes to unqualified party-lists and let them pass through the door?’” he added.
Villarin said the disqualification of party-list groups was not due to the change in the composition of the commission.
“Your honors, it is not the composition of the commissioners but the continuing compliance with the requirements. It doesn’t matter who the commissioners are,” Villarin said.
Apparently unimpressed by the lawyer’s response, Lacson said: “Just say that it’s [part of] electoral reforms. That’s the best answer.”
“Pardon the term but it seems the party-list system was prostituted during the term of [Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo] that’s why you’re correcting it. That’s the higher level of reasoning,” Lacson said.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.